Care for the Needy
Reforming the World -- Sermon #2
by Pastor Bob Burridge ©2000
It was a strange feeling to be riding along in my father's car toward the wreckage of our home. A short time before, I'd picked up my wife from the emergency room at the hospital. She was resting back at my parent's house. As the car entered the dissaster area we started to see various degrees of tornado damage. Judging from what I heard, I knew our house had been hit directly and was beyond repair. I turned to my dad and said, "Its a strange feeling to be homeless. I'm not sure what to do." When we got to the rubble that had been our home, there was no question, our house was lost.
In the days that followed, I found that we weren't going to have to face our loss alone. My family and my friends here at church, even our neighbors, gave of their time and their own possessions to help us get through that tough time. I'd much rather be giving, than to have to be receiving. But sometimes, we all take our turn needing the care and comfort of others.
Sometimes those needs get so serious that, if not corrected, they would keep us from carrying out our duties and responsibilities. At that time we become part of the group we call the needy.
The causes can come in many different ways:
- We might become sick, disabled or unemployed.
- We might have unexpected needs that make us unable to pay our bills or buy food.
- We may have our homes lost to storms, floods or fire.
- We may be harshly discriminated against.
- Or we may become extremely discouraged, or suffer the loss of a loved one.
There are many possibilities that come into lives everyday that render people needy, things that hinder us from our responsibilities for a time, things where we would benefit from help by caring people. Its not always a permenant affliction. But its always serious and painful.
The needy ought to do all they can to overcome their needs to get to where they can again meet their responsibilities and even have extra to help others. But to get there, they often need the help of others. We are all required, to the best of our ability, to reach out with compassionate help to them.
God's word places the responsibility to help first upon the extended family. The church should also help when needed and where it can. Its our spiritual family. Friends, neighbors and our community (local, state and nation) may also help out, as long as it doesn't interfer with the family and church.
But serious problems enter in, when these levels of God ordained responsibility are confused or interfere with one another, or when we neglect God's revealed principles for social and exconomic order.
This had caused some of the differences today in how current social issues are handled. It reflects some of the basic differences we see in how political parties handle these matters. Its seen in the way candidates for office propose plans to provide care. Its even reflected in how charities differ in their care for the needy.
Jesus taught about the importance of care for the needy in the Christian's life.
In Matthew 25 he was explaining the nature of the great spiritual kingdom he was establishing. He told about the day when he would return in judgment over all mankind. But he wasn't trying to use threats or scare tactics. He was explaining how changed lives should evidence themselves now, here on earth.
In verses 31-33 he explained how he will sit on his throne and gather the nations around him. Then he will separate them into two groups: the sheep on his right, and the goats on his left. The sheep are the flock of God, those redeemed by grace. The goats represent the rest who remain in their sin and guilt. That's what we all deserve, if not for God's mercy and grace.
The Lord on his throne, will speak to the sheep on his right.
Calling them blessed of the Father, he will invite them into the eternal kingdom! Then he cites as evidence the works they had done here on earth, works of compassion.
- ... 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
- 'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;
- naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me. '
Then his humbled sheep will answer with a question ...
- ... 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You drink?
- 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You?
- 'And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?'
Verse 40 gives the answer the Lord will give to his sheep's question ...
- ... 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'
His grace, if truly at work in their hearts, compels them to help others. In doing good to their brothers in need, even to the least of them, they honored Christ. Its as if they had shown compassion to Jesus himself.
Then the Lord will speak to the goats on his left.
He will call them cursed ones, and turn them away from his kingdom!
- Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;
- for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink;
- I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me. '
- Then they themselves also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?'
- Then He will answer them, saying, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.'
- And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
Those who show no compassion toward their brothers will be exposed as frauds. Those who care for the needy, are not showing their own superiority or better moral fiber, but the enabling work of Christ in their hearts. The reward is by grace, because the change that produced the good was by grace.
True good works are only performed by changed hearts.
Unchanged hearts might seem to be doing good, but not as God sees it. The Lord looks on the heart. He sees the evil motives which are often the cause of charity. The non-redeemed of this world help the needy outwardly, but not to give honor to God. They do good for political opportunity, or to silence the voice of a guilty conscience, or while vainly imagining that their own good will get them into heaven. They look for the praise of men, respect in the community, business contacts and contracts.
Those who are redeemed by Christ should have a different motive. They ought to do all to the glory of God, as Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 10:31. They do good as described in God's word, out of mercy -- that is, they do it by faith. The Bible says, whatever is not from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23)
If our good deeds imply that humans can do true good aside from the work of Christ, then our whole purpose on earth is subverted! If we support charities that attempt to help without pointing to Jesus Christ's work in them, we support and promote a cancerous lie and undermine the work of the gospel. Our duty is to show that the good we do is a work of the Father on our hearts.
Matthew 5:16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
If we imply that regeneration by Christ is not necessary to do good, we deny a basic purpose of the Christ's work.
Christians have a duty to care for the needy.
Its immoral not to. When God put humans in charge over his creation, it was to represent him here. As we oversee its resources to provide for our food, clothing and shelter, we need to do it with the attitude and in the way explained by our Creator. We need to remember that as we manage the environment, it was made by God for mankind to be our food and to supply our needs. Our conserving of resources should never make us deny care for human needs.
God's law goes on to show how this care is first to come through families. In Scripture that includes all in the family who are part of God's covenant; godly parents, the parent's parents, the uncles, aunts and cousins. When families are unable to help enough, the church and community become involved.
We are not at liberty to institutionalize our responsibilities, shifting the duty away from us. Nor do other agencies have the right before God to take over our primary care. No government has the right to re-distribute wealth, indoctrinate our children, or force Christians to accept immoral practices as if certain sins were guaranteed rights. The best policies are those that enable and encourage individuals, families and churches to live as responsibile neighbors.
These direct biblical principles demand that we take certain positions on social and care issues. When care is done God's way, the most help is given to the truly needy; and families, churches and communities are strengthened by their obedience to the Lord.
Some of the issues we hear debated are easily answered from principles in God's word:
Working to provide our material needs, is the root of a truly healthy economy.
At creation God commanded us to manage the resources he gives us in a way that honors him. This is how we are to provide for our daily material needs. Farmers are to manage their ground or animals to provide food and other basic materials. Businesses (where one owns or manages, and others are employed to work) extend our mandate beyond just what one person can contribute.
Those who produce products or services need to make a fair exchange with those producing other products or services they don't produce themselves. In our present economy, money has become the medium of exchange. Rather than bringing pigs, grain, garments or manufactured tools to the market place, we trade them for money which is a lot easier to carry around.
The biblical principle of fair trade as illustrated in God's laws shows directly that God demands that we produce reliable products, and market them honestly and fairly. A corrupt political process often promises to help the workers to get more than they honestly work for, or to help managers pay less than a fair wage to their workers.
Profit becomes more important than the product, which is the core of the creation mandate. We are to work to provide for our needs and then to humbly manage our extra blessings. Our aim in using what is beyond our basic necessities should be ... to care for the needy, to expand the work of God's Kingdom, and to moderately enjoy our gains once we know we have done our fair share.
But today business is often focussed in the wrong way. It cares little to produce reliable products and reward faithful work. Many purposefully set aside the fair marketing of good products for a more profitable plan: They produce inferior products out of what God gives them. Some try to keep customers coming back for repairs, upgrades and replacements. (not just where technology is making rapid advancements) Inferior services and goods may breakdown endangering our lives or investments.
As believers in Christ we ought to produce reliable products or services at fair prices.
The other side is the unfair treatment of workers.
We have created an expensive world to live in. Often, the needs of workers are only seen as important if they improve profits. But biblically an employer is held responsible to pay a fair and living wage to his workers. Someone working for us and doing a fair job should not become needy, unless personal dissasters occur, or the worker is a poor steward of what he earns.
Believers in Christ should put in a fair day's work, and fairly support those who work for them. They must keep their work in perspective, being responsible with their resources and abilities.
But what do we do about those who struggle in low paying jobs or are unemployed? Some helpful repairs of our welfare system have been begun. But there is more to do. And it must begin with individuals who love God's law.
The principle is summarized clearly in
1 John 3:17-18 But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.
We hurt those unable to work, or who are unemployed for a time, if we turn them into a dependent class. When some are satisfied not to work, all are weakened.
2 Thessalonians 3:10 For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone will not work, neither let him eat.
1 Timothy 5:8 But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.
Then Paul writes a whole section on who should and should not be on the care roll of a church. He makes it clear that only those truly unable to work and who have no family to care for them should be taken on at other levels of aid such as the church.
When this becomes a political issue we should not look for a candidate who promises one group more for less. But for the one who will do the most at making people able to earn all they need themselves. And we should look to those who want to enable families, churches and local communities to care for their needy, rather than institutionalizing care through impersonal agencies.
Sometimes its our laziness and apathy that makes us willing to pay taxes. We anesthetize our conscience by tax-paid or charity-supported care for the needy, rather than having to take the time to care for those in need ourselves.
Another area of need today is Education.
Education has become less a concern of the parents and more a power of the government.
All children are needy in that they require help to overcome their lack of skills to take their place as responsible adults in the community. Biblically, parents have the sole responsibility for their children's education and upbringing. This doesn't mean they can't ever use any public or private schools. But it does mean that they, not the teachers or bureaucrats, are held responsible. Progams that return educational control to parents, however that's accomplished, are more in line with God's word.
Under our current system (which can't be changed overnight), test scores and work performance show an alarming problem for our children. The exception is the good performance in all situations where parents take an active part.
Meanwhile we should be thankful for and pray for Christian parents and those professionals who are good and faithful teachers.
Medical care has become an economic and political tool more than a means of caring for the sick.
We have greater ability to help the ill than ever before. Sadly, the willingness of government programs to pay what ever is charged for the dependent, has driven up prices which saddle insurance programs with huge expenses. This drives up premium costs for working people and limits health care.
I don't believe Dr. Luke in the New Testament would ask his patients how they will pay before he sacrificially set out to treat them. Godly medical care workers are not laboring for more time on the golf course or yacht, but rather to be good stewards of their skills in what God has called them to do.
Prejudice in our laws and welfare system has locked some into poverty and dependence.
Prejudice can come in many different forms. But the Bible condemns them all. Law must be racially and culturally blind toward victims, purpetrators and the needy. Criminals shouldn't be treated differently because of their race or culture. Nor should the needy.
Our welfare programs have become racial and social quicksand. They draw certain groups into a life of discouragement and hopeless dependence. They make them feel like failures, making it easy for them to live off the work of others. It also tends to make them unable to get a good education and therefore a good job which often tempts some discriminated against people into lives of crime. Its no excuse for breaking the law. But as fallen sinners, none of us needs an excuse to sin. What we need it the grace of the gospel and the care of concerned Christian citizens to rescue the needy by bringing eternal life to fellow currupted souls.
Often, its our failure to help those around us that becomes justification for prejudicial laws. The result is laws favoring certian groups and locking them into more dependence. And it makes it harder for us ever to regain control of our biblical responsibilities.
So how do we repair these problems today?
There is no quick solution. One thing we can do is to support and actually vote for the candidates who will best promote these biblical principles. No candidate is perfect. Not even soundly Christian candidates. But their policies should move us closer to the biblical positions than the other candidate's. And the candidate should show the ability to work with others in accomplishing what will be the most God-honoring goal in each area. So we look not only at what they say, but also at what they've accomplished. We look at how well they have worked with others toward these ends.
One major factor in any election for leaders at local, state and federal levels, is to lessen our dependence upon government for care of the needy and enable families, churches and local communities to take up their God-given role.
But before we can expect our elected leaders to restore biblical standards in the care of the needy, we need to do our part as individuals, families, employers, church and neighbors.
We are in a moral tangle today because our greedy and sometimes lazy and apathetic hearts have turned over care of the needy to others to do it for us. We must begin to take back the responsibility as individuals, as families, as a church.
Where its possible we must care for one another as a family of God. None of our people should have to beg to unbelievers for help if possible. We should help our people to improve in their work and management skills. We should not pass up the needy so that we can hurry home to watch our movies on expensive entertainment centers, or play our video games, or take expensive outings and trips, or over-eat at our well stocked tables.
Not that we should never enjoy the fruit of our labor. But it must be done without neglecting this vital responsibility! Our extras can do a lot to help others see how Christ can transform lives.
This is hard. It goes against all that our yet unsanctified hearts want. But if its God's commandment to us, it must be so.